Questions surround bombing of caravans

Officials want to know how many refugee convoys hit, who dropped bombs

War In Yugoslavia

April 16, 1999|By COX NEWS SERVICE

KUKES, Albania -- Multiple questions and scores of missing refugees remained yesterday in the aftermath of bombings of Kosovo refugee caravans, despite the admission by the NATO military command that one of its jets apparently delivered a strike in error.

Exactly how many convoys were blitzed and who dropped the bombs on which ones are the critical questions.

Refugees still reeling from one of the Wednesday assaults adamantly refused to believe that NATO could hit refugees, and they just as stridently demanded that NATO continue and even step up its attacks on Yugoslavia.

"Of course it was not NATO. They are trying to help us," said Xhevrye Bojrami, 28, a numbed mother of six whose husband was killed when an explosion rocked the tractor and wagon carrying their family and about a dozen other refugees. Her husband Ferhati, 35, had been driving.

Descriptions of the incident by Bojrami and 14 other refugees in the caravan do not square with the view given to journalists taken from Belgrade to a bomb site and morgue in southwest Kosovo. They saw dozens of dead and wounded, and were told by Yugoslav authorities that these were the victims of the NATO bombing.

But none of the refugees interviewed from the caravan that arrived here overnight Wednesday spoke of as many victims or so much road damage as the journalists saw yesterday.

Also, the NATO preliminary report says a truck in a civilian convoy was hit by a NATO bomb, while these refugee caravans had no trucks. They were composed of tractors and thousands of people on foot.

Apparently more than one caravan was bombed Wednesday.

If that is so, what happened to the rest of the refugees from the convoy that Serbian Yugoslav officials maintain was bombed by NATO? Neither journalists here nor investigators for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have found refugees here who describe a bombing attack that left at least 60 people dead.

Refugees from the caravan that arrived late Wednesday and in the early hours yesterday set the number of victims at between two and six. They also claimed that at least two MiG-21s -- the kind the Yugoslav air force flies -- had been circling low before the bombing.

The widow Bojrami said the planes struck three times, missing them with the first two bombs.

"We could do nothing to protect the children. We could do nothing except just keep traveling to get out," she said.

Two men with experience either in the Yugoslav military or aviation insisted the bombers flew as low as 600 feet.

"I know planes very well. I used to work at Yugoslav Air Transport in Belgrade," said Bajram Citaku, 61.

"It was a MiG-21. It was this color green," he said, pointing to a lime green jacket. "I saw the flag that was on the tail."

He speculated that NATO may have mistakenly bombed a caravan, but that the Serb military then began dropping bombs on others and blaming it on NATO.

A former Yugoslav soldier interviewed separately also described the plane as a MiG of the same color.

Citaku, who was heading the group on foot directly behind the short line of tractors, said that Serb police at the bombing site stopped the group to say: "Have you seen how NATO attacked you?"

Others heard similar comments from Serbian police and military along the way. They did not believe the Serbs and hardly could believe this American journalist when told NATO actually might have done the bombing.

"I thought of course it cannot be NATO, but the Serb military. Because I trust, I have lots of belief in NATO," said Sania Fazliu, 27, a geological engineer.

She and others who passed the bomb site on foot said the Serb police were filming the wreckage and interviewing a wounded man. She said he was coerced into saying that NATO had bombed the convoy.

Even if it was the fault of NATO, she said, the bombing of Yugoslavia cannot be stopped.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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